Watching U.S. President Barak Obama speak of his hero on December 10, 2013, something was distracting me; the rather large man signing used such exaggerated gestures that I had trouble concentrating on what Obama was saying. Little did I know that the interpreter was a “fake,” according to the Deaf Federation of South Africa. “It was horrible; an absolute circus, really, really bad, Nicole Du Toit, an official sign language interpreter, told the AP. “Only he can understand those gestures,” she added. I suspect that labeling the fiasco a “circus” skates over the underlying mentality in over-reaching and lying to cover it up.
As soon as I read that the interpreter is a fake, I suspected that the South African government fronted the man so to appear sophisticated to the world. I recalled how just hours after Nelson Mandela died, “spontaneous” dancers in formal black dresses preformed outside Mandela’s house. I had the sense of self-aggrandizing people behind the scenes taking advantage of the obvious publicity for South Africa.
To be sure, the interpreter would explain that he had been in a schizophrenic episode while he was signing and that he could not even remember having signed afterward. Hearing this “explanation,” I suspected that with so much on the line, powerful players behind the scenes may have pressured the man to lie. One American news network showed footage of the signer using strange signs at yet another occasion. Perhaps with so many schizophrenic episodes while signing, the man might have picked another profession. In other words, I suspect the mental health explanation is a fake on top of a fraud, both indicative of a broader attempt by government officials or other power brokers in South Africa to “cash in” at the nearest opportunity, regardless of any sense of solemnity in a momentous occasion.
1. Kim Hjelmgaard and Marisol Bello, “Interpreter For Deaf Branded a Fake,” USA Today, December 12, 2013.